On the Use of Foul Language

On the Use of Foul Language April 14, 2014

I don’t go in for the whole “strong language” defense of everyday profanity.  Sam Guzman makes the case for not cussing here, and it’s good enough for me.

My own conversion to the anti-profanity league is more historical than apologetic.  I grew up in a non-cussing household, not because we were anything amazing, but because back then most folks did.  The occasional strongish word was let loose when tempers flared, but overwhelmingly my parents kept it civilized, and kept us civilized.  Certainly there was never any swearing at each other, and none of the really bad words slipped out even in the worst of traffic.

(On the other hand, a furious “Park it or drive it, Turkey!” was such a staple of my passenger-seat listening that it has become something of a life-motto for me: Quit dithering. Park it or drive it.  If my dad taught me nothing else about life — and he did — that one philosophy has been everything for me, and I’m eternally thankful.)

As a pagan college student, I got good at swearing.  Funny story, though, from freshman Calculus: Our professor was the most clean-cut, peaches-and-cream Catholic lady you ever met.  She radiated goodness and light, in addition to being an exceedingly talented instructor.  One day I leaned over to grab my pencil, which had dropped on the floor, and my whole desk-chair-ensemble crashed to the floor with me.  I let out a giant f-bomb, and then remembered where I was, and before whom I was, and proceeded to apologize profusely — not for the desk crashing, but for my language.  Because I knew with devout conviction that say what you will on your own time, one doesn’t swear in the presence of Mrs. O’Leary.  A crashing desk is no excuse.

I returned to Christianity, and to the Church, thanks to the good works and prayers of a handful of bona fide hidely-ho Evangelicals who could show up Ned Flanders any day of the week.  These guys had their act together, and a straight reading of the Bible seemed to underscore the point that if they were mistaken on the Real Presence and the bark of Peter, and had gone overboard in their tee-totaling, they appeared to have gotten the clean-language thing right.  Not cussing is the thing Christians do.  It’s part of having a shiny, peaceful, forgiving, longsuffering, love-spouting, will-of-God accepting heart.

That’s my story.

***

Here’s a fair-to-middling article on whether Americans cuss too much, and whether there is too much cussing in movies.  It’s the piece that got me thinking about this topic today.  I don’t usually like to watch shows with a lot of foul language, because I have a brain that is geared towards learning words, and I end up with words stuck in my brain that I don’t want there.

But the article’s treatment of the movie question reminded me of why I think Funeral Kings is such a great film: Because the main character has the potty mouth to end all potty mouths.

It’s terrible.  Every other word is an f-bomb.  And that’s what I love. Because that’s what we look like when we cuss: We’re that immature, out-of-control kid, trying to be sophisticated but really we’re not.  Not at all.

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